The summer before, I had met Jules and Glenn. Only a year or so separated any of us and we all played together. Every day of the summer, the fields and pine forests submitted to us and our revelry.
This story was originally published in the fall 2019 edition of Upper Delaware Magazine.
For two memorable summers, in 1949 and 1950, my parents rented a room at a large upstate New York farm so we could escape the oppressive city heat of July and August. So, come June 30, my mother and I, my father was working, boarded a train, pulled away from Washington Heights, and were off to spend eight bucolic weeks in Narrowsburg, New York.
Years later, after having purchased a vacation home in the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania, I saw a road sign that said “Narrowsburg.” Following the word was a designated route number. I filed the sighting away, excited by hopes of locating the old farm, and nebulous intentions to follow the sign in days to come.
It did take awhile to seriously embark on the journey, but finding the farm wasn’t easy. It wasn’t there anymore. The land had been cleared of the farm house and adjacent structures, now buried in the past for good. Furthermore, it had taken several tries just to have come that far.
I had found the town, (in New York, close to the Pennsylvania border). Narrowsburg: a restaurant, barber shop, novelty and gift store, post office, railroad depot. Seeing it almost as it had been elicited momentary rejuvenation and a great joy. There was a nice overlook commanding a scenic view of park land and water, which I didn’t remember. But standing before the train depot brought back that hot summer afternoon in 1950.
My mother and I had disembarked and taken our bags to stand before the train depot, in the street, overdressed, waiting for old man Schwartz to arrive in his black pick-up truck to take us down the back roads to his farm.
Peculiarly, as I thought back to that day, and the scene appeared vividly to me, I was overtaken by an all-encompassing depression. It was not a simple wistfulness. I was smitten with a deep gloom. My impression was that something had happened on that spot, that very afternoon. I did not know what. As I allowed myself to drift back to 1950, I saw myself, the 11-year-old, holding a paper pocket calendar hidden behind an arithmetic textbook.
I had begun counting and crossing off days as early as the end of April; the little card calendar, one of my most cherished pocket treasures, produced at every available opportunity. The high point of an afternoon was the moment reserved for obliterating another passed school day. It was also my habit to keep at least four or five days behind so I could occasionally annihilate more than one or even two days at a time. And by the end of May, the ritual was embraced in earnest.
The yo-yo I had been saving for, and with which I envisioned myself spending endless hours in amusement and practice, was to be a bright green Duncan with a black stripe. I had already purchased glassine bags of spare strings. I imagined waiting for my friends on the farmhouse porch, filling any dull moments with the Duncan. It would be a tension free summer of relaxation and play. I had had enough of tests, homework, schools and teachers.
The train ride was wonderful. It was part of what I had been looking forward to: the dining car breakfast of pancakes, the linen napkins and heavy silvery urns, the changing views from the train windows, and my special new summer vacation comic book: a thicker edition that featured a puzzle page. The ride, filled with anticipation, seemed longer than what it had to have been.
The summer before, I had met Jules and Glenn. They were brothers, Glenn, the handsome, older brother; Jules, the bright and more precocious. Only a year or so separated any of us and we all played together. Every day of the summer, the fields and pine forests submitted to us and our revelry. We camped out, we hiked.
Once a week or so, we hiked up the Hoffman dirt road, all the way to the General Store. I spent much of my time there, admiring the display of Camper King Pocket Knives. My favorite was the knife with not two—not just a double blade—but no less than five blades for camping, including: a can opener, bottle opener, a screwdriver, and an awll. Hopes of obtaining that knife propelled me through many quiet days, certainly up that hot Hoffman road to the General Store.
We helped old man Schwartz on the farm. At the end of the summer, as he had promised, Schwartz took us to the Lava Fire Department Fair. We had been looking forward to it for two months. There had been threats of “if you don’t help out…” or “if you don’t behave yourself, you won’t go to the Lava Fair." But we did get to go, in Schwartz’s black Ford pick-up truck. And, it was great. We pitched pennies, threw wooden rings over bottle necks, ate ice-cream and hot dogs, spent the dollar we each had saved and walked through the heated August afternoon as it baked the final days of summer.
When it was over, and we had to return to the city, we knew there was next year; we would see each other then; school would have come and gone and it would be summer again.
“Next summer… See you next summer!” It was waiting, off in the wings.
And now, at the depot in Narrowsburg, I recalled that depressing day, as I stood quietly at the top of that next summer: my mother and I, in the hot sun, in our city clothes, waiting for Schwartz, visions of Jules and Glenn romping in my head, the fun we’d have. Summer was here. And around the turn, there came Schwartz’s pick-up. I could see him alight. I saw him bend slowly and lift our luggage onto the back of the truck. So, what was wrong? At once I knew.
“Are Jules and Glenn here?” I asked. Schwartz barely shook his head. So, I would have to wait for them? They hadn’t arrived yet. I would have to spend a day or two alone. Not a pleasing prospect. I was ready for my friends. For the summer.
“They ain’t comin’,” Schwartz said.
“When? Today? This week?” I was confused. Why couldn’t they be here today? Now!
“They ain’t comin’ this summer,” Schwartz said, as he got in his truck. And one of the darkest clouds of my early life descended, enveloping me. I was left to contend with and resolve one of the most shocking and unexpected developments I could have imagined. My friends, whom I had anticipated for months, who had constituted summer, would not be coming. At all. “This summer,” Schwartz said. I would be alone. It would be a different summer. It would be empty. Riding to the farmhouse, I felt betrayed, hurt, hopeless. Summer had come and gone in the few moments since Schwartz’s pick-up had arrived, and I was left with sadness. It was as if I had paid for something, taken it home, but on opening the package, found it to be vacant. Jules and Glenn would not be coming up… at all. There would not be summer as it was last year. I was alone.
So that was it: the reason for the feelings of sadness as I thought back to that late June day at the train depot, as my mother and I awaited Schwartz’s pick-up; as what had promised to be a wonderful recap of a past summer collapsed and died.
Decades later now, it had taken more than two additional years before I went beyond the town of Narrowsburg into the hills of Cochecton and Lava to find Hoffman Road and Schwartz’s farm. I passed the old Lava fire house and pulled over alongside a shoulder where a gray-haired man was mowing his lawn. He remembered the farm, old man Schwartz, and Schwartz’s son Daniel, who was killed in the war. (That had been a tragedy which had always hung over the farm in the years after the war). And he recalled the people who had stayed at the farm in the early fifties, the reason being his corner was where the postman, not wishing to negotiate the long dirt road to the farm, left the mail. The man’s name was Kent. He said a little memorial to some of the old timers had been erected at the top of Hoffman Road.
As he had said, there in the brush, at the top of Hoffman Road was a wooden table, a bench, and a plaque nailed to a tree with about two dozen names engraved on it. One name stood out. I had noticed a Skinner Road driving beyond Narrowsburg that afternoon. The name was familiar, of course. Skinner was Schwartz’s good friend. Schwartz was forever going to see “old man Skinner” about something. Skinner, who was old in 1950, now, a half century later, had a road named after him; he was engraved on a plaque; a town father. I didn’t see any other names I recognized and I drove down the path.
I passed a large lot with a couple of trailers on it and not much more. Nothing appeared familiar and I thought I must have gone astray. That was when I saw it. The old shed. It was where Schwartz kept his venerable Ford pick-up. The shed had always been directly across from the farm house with its concrete pillars and several steps leading to the house. But now, there was no house. The ancient edifice was gone. The shed stood alone, but it remained where it had always been.
It was difficult to believe, but dead ahead was where my mother had picked berries; off to my left and up the hill was the pine forest; to my right was the site of an old log fence where Jules, Glenn, a young girl named Carol and I posed for a group picture. It was the afternoon I had been stung by a wasp.
Beyond the fence was a brook. I didn’t see it, but traces of it had to exist somewhere. There were boulders and slabs of rock alongside of it and a giant oak with some low branches over the water, a few feet from the edge. Jules, Glenn and I used to jump from the rocks to the branch and swing over the water, then jump back onto the rocks. It was quite a dare the first time we tried it and a proud feat when each of us had accomplished it. Thereafter, that first summer, any newcomers to the group had to prove themselves by jumping from the rocks to the branch and back to the rocks again.
I was playing alone; Jules and Glenn were not there that second summer. I walked down to our haunt by the brook and stood on the jumping-off boulder, gazing a few feet away at the low lying branch, inviting, over the water. No one was there now. It wasn’t like last summer, but I could hear the chiding voices urging me up and out. I swung my arms, bounded up and grabbed hold of the branch above the brook. I could still make it. Achievement. I felt free. I began my swing forward to increase momentum for the flight backward when I lost my grip and fell onto the flat rocks and water below. I lay there in a state of near shock. The wind had been knocked out of me, the water was cold and I felt frightened. The jolt made me think I had broken myself.
I was afraid to try and move. Could I have survived that kind of impact? Now, I thought, I had really done it. And who would find me? Who would know? I would have to get up; have to make it back. And what would my mother have to say?
I was fortunate. I had landed flat. I got up, and shaken by a considerable scare, I dripped my way back to the farmhouse. My mother didn’t make a big deal out of it—just another case of a kid slipping on the edge of a rill and getting wet. But I knew it all could have ended, stupidly, right there. Another inch. Another moment. Another rock. I had been very lucky.
So I stood at the spot, all these years later, looking for the brook. The bed was dried out. But the oak was there and the rocks were strewn about. And 50 years ago, a little boy swung a bit too zealously, almost did himself in, and got the fright of his life. No one saw it, no one knew, no one would ever know. Turning back, I took a last glance at where the farm once was. Summer was over.
Gary Alexander Azerier lives in New York City and has a place in Hemlock Farms, Lords Valley, PA. He has several books published on Amazon and elsewhere.